'Sahara' | Bob Shaye | Dems Fight Over Jacko | Marlon Brando

'Sahara' Dry as the Desert

While the entire film business waits and prays for "Star Wars: Episode III — Revenge of the Sith" to save the industry, there are more immediate problems at hand.

The biggest one is "Sahara."

So far, the $130 million "Raiders of the Lost Ark" homage has grossed only $64.5 million domestically and $23.8 million internationally.

Sometimes a movie with middling reviews, but lots of action and sexy stars, can stir up enough interest abroad to offset domestic losses.

But Matthew McConaughey and Penelope Cruz have not played that well across the seas. English-speaking counties such as Britain, Australia and New Zealand have had lukewarm responses to it. Japan and Italy have been equally unexcited.

"Sahara" was directed by Breck Eisner, son of soon-to-be-former Disney chief Michael Eisner. It was his first blockbuster production.

The film is officially a Paramount release, but most of its money was put up by Bristol Bay Productions, which is also known as Walden Media, the film company started by billionaire Philip Anschutz.

Even though Bristol Bay did the financing for Taylor Hackford's "Ray," the company so far has had more deficits than pluses.

Besides "Sahara," the company also has in limited release a soccer film called "The Game of Their Lives." With more than $20 million spent, the kicker is that only $305,337 has come in.

Meanwhile, under its own name, Walden is still taking a bath on "Around the World in 80 Days," which Disney distributed last year.

Disney put up $25 million, but that's about what the film took in totally. A $110 million budget, plus another $20 million for promotion, was lost faster than you can say "hot-air balloon."

It's no surprise that it's hard to make it in the film business, but Walden/Bristol is having more trouble than most startups.

Ironically, "Around the World" and "Sahara" do have one thing in common: They're pretty much tied for the most number of producers listed in screen credits.

The former had 15; the latter had 19. It's not a box-office record, but it's still a record.

New Line Chief Recuperates

The good news that "Monster-in-Law" finished the weekend box office at No. 1 will be welcome indeed.

I'm told that New Line's fun and flamboyant chief, Bob Shaye, has been recuperating at a New York hospital from a bad viral infection. Shaye is one half of the New Line power duo; Michael Lynne is the other.

No doubt the exhaustion of producing the "Lord of the Rings" series, the upcoming "King Kong" and putting together a deal for Jane Fonda's comeback was enough to knock him out — at least temporarily.

Knowing Shaye, he'll be back on his feet and kicking again in no time.

Democratic Fundraisers Fight Over Jacko

The tug-of-war over Sony/ATV Music Publishing, which includes the crown jewel known as the Beatles catalog, might be resolved in Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean's office.

The men on either end of the struggle are both major Democratic fundraisers. One, of course, is bigger than the other.

Peter L. Briger, head of Fortress Investments, just bought Michael Jackson's $270 million loan from Bank of America. That puts him in the driver's seat when Jackson's partnership with Sony in the music-publishing company comes to a crossroads this December.

If Jackson hasn't paid Briger by then, the New York hedge-fund broker will move in for the kill.

Briger is not that well known, but buying Jackson's loans put him on the map this month.

Less publicized is that between 2002 and 2004, he and his wife Devon donated $83,000 to Democratic Party candidates and causes. That includes $50,000 to the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee.

Of course, Briger's just starting out. He has a long way to catch up with Ron Burkle, the man who may have caused Bank of America to sell Jackson's loans to Fortress.

Burkle has donated $680,000 to Democratic candidates since 2002. More recently, he helped Jackson get a $2 million bank loan to pay his current bills at Neverland.

More importantly, Burkle is now the man upon whom Jackson is depending to save him from Fortress and foreclosure.

At this point, no matter which man winds up with John Lennon and Paul McCartney's 177 songs from the catalog, Jackson may have to perform for free at the next Democratic National Convention — if he's not otherwise occupied, that is.

Brando's Dead, but Still Makes Headlines

As Michael Jackson's defense lurches into a third week of fun and games, here are a few thoughts.

First of all, neither side seems to realize that the Fire Mountain Services LLC they keep mentioning stands for the initials of Frederic Marc Schaffel. They also don't seem to recall that Marlon Brando got $1 million from Jackson via Schaffel, and that when Schaffel received payouts from the "rebuttal video," it was likely reimbursement.

The Los Angeles Times reports that Jack Nicholson has bought the house adjoining his property that formerly belonged to Brando. This column reported that when Nicholson had his final falling out with Rebecca Broussard, the mother of his young children, he moved in with Brando temporarily about four years ago. He knows the house well.